Photo: DTU Space, Integra

DTU to deliver drone system for Arctic measurements

Tuesday 14 Mar 17


René Forsberg
DTU Space
+45 45 25 97 19

Included in new research centre

The project is funded by a grant from Villum Fonden as part of the infrastructure at the newly established Villum Research Station, Station Nord, in Greenland, headed by Professor Henrik Skov from Aarhus University.

More drones will be purchased and included in future research and monitoring work in the Arctic region if future test flights in Greenland will take place as expected. At a speed of 80 km/h and a theoretical operation time of up to 10 hours, a drone can cover an area the size of Denmark in a single flight.

The new drone and the related laser scanner system have been developed jointly by DTU, Integra A/S, and Aarhus University.

Newly developed drone technology from DTU Space is to ensure more efficient climate change monitoring in the Arctic. The equipment will now be handed over to the Villum Research Station in Greenland.
Until now, changes in the Greenland ice sheet and the sea ice in the Arctic region have been monitored based on data from satellites in orbit around the Earth and airborne measurements closer to the surface of the Earth. These methods will now be supplemented by a newly developed laser system for use in a medium-sized 20 kg drone.

The drone is primarily intended for flights in connection with studies carried out from the newly opened research station in Greenland, Villum Research Station, Station Nord. But it can also be used elsewhere in Greenland.

“We’re pleased that we can contribute with a new climate monitoring solution in Greenland. We’re talking about a new technology in the measuring instruments which are installed in the drone, and they must be both small and robust to be able to operate in the harsh Arctic climate”, says Director Kristian Pedersen, DTU Space.

Today, new drone system will be handed over to Aarhus University in connection with an event at the Hans Christian Andersen Airport in Odense, where the equipment will also be demonstrated. Among the participants will be Lars Chr. Lilleholt, Danish Minister for Energy, Utilities and Climate. In future, the drone will form part of DTU’s efforts monitoring the ice in and around Greenland.

Measurements from the drone will serve as a supplement to the ongoing monitoring of the inland and sea ice carried out by DTU Space in collaboration with, among others, the European Space Agency (ESA). The detailed laser scanner measurements with the new equipment also support the national monitoring programme in relation to changes in the thickness of the inland and sea ice.

Building on years of knowledge
The new drone technology is based on knowledge and experience gained through DTU Space’s long-standing work.

“The development of the new system represents the further development and utilization of the know-how which DTU Space has gathered over many years of carrying out airborne measurements of the changes in the ice in Greenland, the Arctic Ocean, and most recently in Antarctica,” says Professor Rene Forsberg from DTU Space.

"We’re pleased that we can contribute with a new climate monitoring solution in Greenland."
Kristian Pedersen, Director of DTU Space

DTU Space has built and developed the drone system in collaboration with the company Integra A/S and Aarhus University.

Small measuring instruments pose a major challenge
A major challenge for researchers and experts in connection with the drone technology has been designing the measuring instruments on such a small scale that they can fit in a 3.3 x 2.3 metre drone rather than in a plane.

“We’ve developed a solution placed in a very small area. It’s composed of a laser which was originally developed for self-driving cars, a camera, and a high-precision GPS system supplemented by gyros and accelerometers similar to those used in aircraft. They’re all connected to a mini-computer the size of a large box of matches, which receives and processes the data received from the laser scanner, camera, and GPS during a three to four-hour flight,” explains Eric Haase, researcher at DTU Space.

The laser scanner and the GPS in the drone are capable of carrying out measurements with centimetre-level accuracy of sea and inland ice in a 50-100 metres wide ‘track’. Such details cannot be obtained by means of satellite measurements.

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